Why not start with modern Greek?

Jonathan Robie
Posts: 3611
Joined: May 5th, 2011, 5:34 pm
Location: Durham, NC
Contact:

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Jonathan Robie » August 1st, 2019, 8:25 am

To me, it's usually best to focus on the thing you want to learn and the skills you want to have.

The SIOP people studied language learning in California high schools. They learned that if you want students to be able to use English to discuss history, the best way to do that is to have them use English to discuss history. Travel phrasebook English didn't help with that and was largely a distraction.

Modern Greek pronunciation is a whole lot more natural than Erasmian, but there are only a few differences between that and Buth's pronunciation or other restored pronunciations, and those differences make it possible to hear differences that matter. Modern Greek no longer uses the same pronouns as Koine Greek, if you use modern Greek pronunciation you wind up having to use modern Greek pronouns if you want to be sure what a sentence says, and there are other similar vocabulary issues.

I'm sure that becoming fluent in modern Greek would improve my understanding of Koine. I'm sure that learning Homeric Greek would also improve my understanding of Koine. People who read and write a lot, using the full range of Greek, are the true experts.

But the title asks "why not start" with modern Greek. I think the answer is simple: it's not the most efficient way to learn to read and write Hellenistic Greek well. You would probably understand modern Greek better if you also mastered ancient Greek, but it's not the most efficient place to start. I think it's better to use active 4-channel techniques to teach Hellenistic Greek to beginners.
0 x


ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
http://jonathanrobie.biblicalhumanities.org/

Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1582
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » August 1st, 2019, 11:15 am

JustinSmith wrote:
July 31st, 2019, 3:37 pm

All things being equal, yes. But all things are not equal and my argument is that it would behoove the learner to begin with the dialect that has a native community. Again, if you were Chinese wanting to read Shakespeare, would it be better for you to learn American English first—then the goofy rules about -eth and ye—or just focus on reading Shakespeare (or working in a synthesized version of the language instead of the spoken dialect)? I don't think that is a straw man. Speaking with a native is hands down the best thing you can do to build proficiency in a language—and, hey, being able to communicate with an actual people group instead of a scholarly circle ought to be attractive to us, as well. The Greeks are more than the gatekeepers of a language (and Greece is worth the visit!).

At 51 semester hours, and assuming at least an hour of work outside of class per semester hour, you could have completed the 1500 hour program mentioned above. This means that you would be able to understand native-to-native speech with ease, the trademark of true language proficiency. For the <<πολλῇ τῇ ἀσκήσει>> man, keeping you away from the classics and learning all the -eth's and ye's of Koine (and beyond) would be an impossible task. And I dare say you'd take to it like a cow to cud at that point.
Well, here we run into a problem, and that is the fact that there are no native speakers of ancient Greek. There is no active contemporaneous linguaculture. Your argument really rests on the assumption that modern Greek is such continuous with ancient Greek that the gap may easily be bridged. That gap may not be bridged, however, except by special training, and modern Greeks who study ancient Greek are not necessarily more proficient at it than Americans or Brit's or Italians who study ancient Greek, as no less an authority than Maria Pantelia (https://tinyurl.com/y4s5zfns) assured me in conversation together when we were in graduate school discussing this very issue. You or someone else in the thread above posted the anecdotal "Well, I was traveling in Greece and people seemed to understand my Koine because I used modern pronunciation." A factor usually ignored is that many modern Greeks have had some exposure to ancient Greek, either in school (not as common as it once was), or through the Orthodox liturgy. The simplified sort of Koine which people tend to use conversationally (itself something of an artificial construct) is close enough to Katharevousa (another artificial construct) that modern speakers in context can fill in the gaps and usually get the sense of it. But present an untrained modern Greek speaker with the Greek of Acts or the Epistle to the Hebrews and she's going to have difficulty. Proficiency in any "dialect" can only be gained by practicing in that dialect.

Oh, and British English, for sure. I don't speak English -- I talk American. :)
0 x
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

Stephen Carlson
Posts: 2831
Joined: May 11th, 2011, 10:51 am
Location: Melbourne
Contact:

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 2nd, 2019, 7:50 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 8:25 am
To me, it's usually best to focus on the thing you want to learn and the skills you want to have.
I think this basically right. There are spillover effects from learning any related language (e.g., learning Swedish allowed me to understand written but not spoken Danish), but it seems to me that learning modern Greek or Latin are about as directly beneficial to learning classical Greek (i.e., not very direct). Moreover, they do open up different sets of discourses, and so the choice depends on whether speaking to modern Greeks or reading classical literature is more useful to one's needs.
0 x
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

JustinSmith
Posts: 13
Joined: June 28th, 2019, 10:06 pm

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by JustinSmith » August 4th, 2019, 9:43 pm

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 11:15 am
Well, here we run into a problem, and that is the fact that there are no native speakers of ancient Greek.
No one is arguing this, Barry. The key argument is that the ability to speak with a native in another dialect of the same language outweighs not speaking with a native at all in the target dialect.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 11:15 am
Proficiency in any "dialect" can only be gained by practicing in that dialect.
Yes, and no. The point, again, is that building a conversational proficiency within the living dialect is a more efficient way to learn to read the dead dialect. Will this require additional study of the target dialect? Of course. But I've not met anyone who had to break out a grammar book to read a KJV Bible. And I've been in KJV churches. You pick it up as you go, provided you have a high proficiency of the living dialect.
Barry Hofstetter wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 11:15 am
modern Greeks who study ancient Greek are not necessarily more proficient at it than Americans or Brit's or Italians who study ancient Greek
[/quote].
Stephen Carlson wrote:
August 2nd, 2019, 7:50 pm
but it seems to me that learning modern Greek or Latin are about as directly beneficial to learning classical Greek
Did you watch the video I linked to in my previous comment? This is like saying modern Americans are not necessarily more proficient at reading Chaucer than the Chinese or the Mexicans who study middle English. Do you perceive that as a tenable position?
Jonathan Robie wrote:
August 1st, 2019, 8:25 am
But the title asks "why not start" with modern Greek. I think the answer is simple: it's not the most efficient way to learn to read and write Hellenistic Greek well. You would probably understand modern Greek better if you also mastered ancient Greek, but it's not the most efficient place to start. I think it's better to use active 4-channel techniques to teach Hellenistic Greek to beginners.
This argument is akin to those who have argued that learners should only focus on "reading" and not hearing, speaking, or writing. But there is an inherent hierarchy in language learning hearing>speaking>reading>writing that doesn't allow us to only focus on "the thing you want to learn and the skills you want to have." 4-channels in Hellenistic is good. May your tribe increase. But, to stick with the comparison, I have a hard time imagining that a group of Chinese students would learn middle English best by speaking their own synthesized version, of which no one is a native, than learning from native speakers of modern English—at the start.
1 x

Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1582
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » August 12th, 2019, 9:18 am

I was going to give a point by point response, but simply will summarize here that I don't believe engagement with modern Greek prior to learning ancient will improve efficiency. I'm not nearly convinced that ancient Greek and modern are close enough for that purpose (and I know more than one native speaker of modern Greek who agrees with me on this). Direct engagement with ancient Greek is, in my opinion, the best approach, and done from a variety of angles (as discussed obliquely above). That doesn't mean that modern Greek cannot be a help and it is certainly good to learn it in its own right, but if efficiency is your argument, I don't think that works.
0 x
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

Benjamin Kantor
Posts: 59
Joined: June 24th, 2017, 3:18 am

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Benjamin Kantor » August 12th, 2019, 11:33 am

Let me just add two quick points to the discussion.

1)

My ideal 3-year curriculum would be as follows:

Year 1: concurrent Beginners' Modern Greek and Beginners' Koine Greek as separate classes (both taught communicatively, but perhaps at 2/3 pace since you are taking both)
summer between year 1 and 2: summer intensive of Modern Greek in Athens

Year 2: Intermediate Koine Greek (communicatively)

Year 3: Advanced Koine Greek (communicatively)

Most of the benefits (or at least the most important ones) that you are going to get from Modern Greek directly relevant for Koine Greek (and that you couldn't get as well by doing communicative Koine Greek) you are going to be able to get with 1 academic year + 1 summer; namely, I am talking about pronunciation, diction, rhythm of speech, and the general feel of Greek as a native language. Morphology, vocab, syntax, etc. are all better taught in the Koine dialect (obviously).



2)

I still would like to see a similar test with Modern Greek speakers and Josephus, Maccabees, Chariton, Epictetus, Plutarch, etc. The Greek of the Gospels is much easier than the Greek in some of these other sources.

Anyone have a native Greek and one of these texts nearby to do the test?
0 x
For Koine Greek recordings and videos:

https://www.KoineGreek.com

RandallButh
Posts: 1011
Joined: May 13th, 2011, 4:01 am

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by RandallButh » August 13th, 2019, 6:50 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
August 12th, 2019, 9:18 am
I was going to give a point by point response, but simply will summarize here that I don't believe engagement with modern Greek prior to learning ancient will improve efficiency. I'm not nearly convinced that ancient Greek and modern are close enough for that purpose (and I know more than one native speaker of modern Greek who agrees with me on this). Direct engagement with ancient Greek is, in my opinion, the best approach, and done from a variety of angles (as discussed obliquely above). That doesn't mean that modern Greek cannot be a help and it is certainly good to learn it in its own right, but if efficiency is your argument, I don't think that works.
I've also talked with Greeks in Greece on this issue and noticed how easily they handle ancient texts. Granted, the high-school teachers have done at least a BA in Greek lit. But they would not trade in their modern fluency and they do see it as a major help.
The question becomes efficiency. When discussing a 1-or-2 year intensive program, I don't see the time available for full modern fluency. I've looked at this many times, in fact every time I visit Greece. Likewise, I would not schedule in the necessary modern units for fluency (30-50) in a BA program with, say, 50 credits of (ancient) Greek work to plan with. For a BA, I would probably limit things to a 3-credit modern 'get-around-Greece' course for students who already have 12-20 units of communicative ancient Greek -- or depending on when the first Greek visit is scheduled. Maybe including 6-units as a modern elective. However, for a full scholar's program, BA to PhD, I think that our field is remiss in not requiring modern fluency. I say that, though, with only a get-around-the-islands modern acquaintance. I've never had the two-year sabbatical necessary to do it right.

Still, if I were to design a multi-year graduate program in Greek it would be communicative, of course, and it would include fluency in modern to a level of attending lectures and discussing them in Greek, and reading books. My main reduction would be to not require the extensive reading and writing skill necessary to be a full-fledged university student in Greece. That extra work would be reserved for the ancient dialect(s). So probably 20 units modern Greek, plus visits to Greece: 3-6 units in the BA and another 12 in a graduate program. 2 credits could be given toward modern Greek based on visits to Greece conducted in modern Greek. (PS: the above modern Greek element would be quite extensive and produce results quite high by North-American monolingual standards.)

Just musing. And for Biblical Studies, remember that I would require fluency in Hebrew, too, starting with a BA.
0 x

Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1582
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » August 14th, 2019, 9:02 am

RandallButh wrote:
August 13th, 2019, 6:50 am

I've also talked with Greeks in Greece on this issue and noticed how easily they handle ancient texts. Granted, the high-school teachers have done at least a BA in Greek lit. But they would not trade in their modern fluency and they do see it as a major help.
The question becomes efficiency. When discussing a 1-or-2 year intensive program, I don't see the time available for full modern fluency. I've looked at this many times, in fact every time I visit Greece. Likewise, I would not schedule in the necessary modern units for fluency (30-50) in a BA program with, say, 50 credits of (ancient) Greek work to plan with. For a BA, I would probably limit things to a 3-credit modern 'get-around-Greece' course for students who already have 12-20 units of communicative ancient Greek -- or depending on when the first Greek visit is scheduled. Maybe including 6-units as a modern elective. However, for a full scholar's program, BA to PhD, I think that our field is remiss in not requiring modern fluency. I say that, though, with only a get-around-the-islands modern acquaintance. I've never had the two-year sabbatical necessary to do it right.

Still, if I were to design a multi-year graduate program in Greek it would be communicative, of course, and it would include fluency in modern to a level of attending lectures and discussing them in Greek, and reading books. My main reduction would be to not require the extensive reading and writing skill necessary to be a full-fledged university student in Greece. That extra work would be reserved for the ancient dialect(s). So probably 20 units modern Greek, plus visits to Greece: 3-6 units in the BA and another 12 in a graduate program. 2 credits could be given toward modern Greek based on visits to Greece conducted in modern Greek. (PS: the above modern Greek element would be quite extensive and produce results quite high by North-American monolingual standards.)

Just musing. And for Biblical Studies, remember that I would require fluency in Hebrew, too, starting with a BA.
And at the end of the day, the modern Greek who has studied ancient Greek and those who start out their life with other languages end up in the same place. Ph.D. programs in Classics do not require reading proficiency in modern Greek, but normally German and French. Why is the significant scholarship being done by native speakers of these languages, and not native Greek speakers? I remain unconvinced that adding the layer of modern Greek is the best way forward, any more than learning Italian or French is best way to access Latin. A modern Greek speaker may have a head start, but is that head start sufficient that we have to require modern fluency of non-native speakers to gain reading fluency in ancient Greek? οὐ πιστεύω. τὸ τὴν παλαίαν διάλεκτον συνίεναι χαλεπὸν ἱκανῶς ἐστίν ὥστε ἕτεραν ἐπιβουλὴν προσθεῖναι οὐ δεῖ.
0 x
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

RandallButh
Posts: 1011
Joined: May 13th, 2011, 4:01 am

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by RandallButh » August 14th, 2019, 10:10 am

I would give up French, maybe German, too, for Greek studies, if the students had fluency in English, Hebrew and modern and ancient Greek.
In the US, graduate schools only require "reading French and German" anyway, which is minimally helpful but not usually equivalent to what Europeans are required of English. (PS: I used to hear the same arguments in grad school against modern Hebrew, which usually showed a lack of skill in modern Hebrew or an appreciation of scholarly literature in Hebrew. Granted, Hebrew dialects are closer to each other, but I think that the Greek field would be better off with practitioners having fluency in the modern dialect.)

As for modern Greek within a broader Greek education, πρέπει εἰς τὸ ἐπισκέψασθαι, εἰς τὸ ᾆσαι, καὶ εἰς τὰ καπηλεία. 8-)
And we wouldn't be having endless English discussions about whether or not time exists in the Greek indicative. You've got to acknowledge this one, at least. :-)
0 x

Barry Hofstetter
Posts: 1582
Joined: May 6th, 2011, 1:48 pm

Re: Why not start with modern Greek?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » August 14th, 2019, 11:21 am

RandallButh wrote:
August 14th, 2019, 10:10 am

As for modern Greek within a broader Greek education, πρέπει εἰς τὸ ἐπισκέψασθαι, εἰς τὸ ᾆσαι, καὶ εἰς τὰ καπηλεία. 8-)
And we wouldn't be having endless English discussions about whether or not time exists in the Greek indicative. You've got to acknowledge this one, at least. :-)
Triple amen to that, ἀδελφέ μου. This discussion always reminds me of Spiros Zhodiates, "a Greek reading from his Greek New Testament" as the intro to his radio program claimed, but whose insights were often pedestrian rehashes of claims made in older evangelical commentaries. Whatever path to mastery of the language, being fluent doesn't guarantee anything further.
0 x
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
Instructor of Latin
Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε

Post Reply

Return to “Teaching Methods”